TV

The Best DVDs of 2010

As the medium continues to struggle with significance in the steady "streaming" of the 21st Century, here are PopMatters' picks for the best the format(s) have to offer.

DVD: Mystery Team

Film: Mystery Team

Director: Dan Eckman

Cast: Donald Glover, DC Pierson, Dominic Dierkes, Aubrey Plaza, Matt Walsh, Bobby Moynihan

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List number: 35

Display Width: 200Mystery Team
Lionsgate

In sketch group Derrick Comedy’s first feature film, three guys (DC Pierson, Dominic Dierkes, and Donald Glover of NBC’s Community) started an Encyclopedia Brown-style detective agency as children, and now they’re teenagers and still at it. Same dorky haircuts and clothes, same nonsense kid mysteries. A girl retains them to find her parents’ murderer: naturally they accept, and hi-jinx ensue. Scored by Glover, and featuring supporting actors like Bobby Moynihan, Aubrey Plaza, Ellie Kemper, Kevin Brown, John Lutz, and Matt Walsh, the movie is knock-you-over, line-after-line hilarious, but at its core it is a coming-of-age story with real heart. The DVD includes an extra 94 minutes of laughs on an audio commentary, a deleted scenes montage that reads like a gag reel and a few other bonuses. This is the kind of movie you buy and show over and over for every new friend that walks in the door. Jenn Misko

 

DVD: Ian McKellen: Acting Shakespeare

TV Show: Ian McKellen: Acting Shakespeare

Cast: Ian McKellen

Network: PBS

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Review: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/preview/review/121050-ian-mckellen-acting-shakespeare

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Display Width: 200Ian McKellen: Acting Shakespeare
PBS

It is the sort of show that is often lazily characterized as ‘defying description’. Like most works that ‘defy description’, Acting Shakespeare in fact inspires a slew of descriptions: what it defies is a reductive definition. This is ‘An Evening with Ian McKellen’; it is one actor’s autobiography; it is a brief history of Shakespeare’s working life, and a longer history of the life of his work; it is a greatest hits set of Shakespearean speeches; and it is as fine a lesson in acting as is available for home viewing. We are so accustomed to home viewing now involving the sight CGI spectacles seen on high definition televisions the size of small cinema screens, their soundtracks exploding around us at volumes Ozzy Osbourne would think excessive, that to put on a DVD and watch a major league movie star stand alone, in an unremarkable blue-grey shirt and greyish slacks, on an all but bare stage, is, at first, peculiar and jarring. It takes only minutes, though, to become captivated by this singular figure. McKellen accepts the true challenge of Shakespearean acting: to perform the roles as Burbage would have performed them in their first runs, without special effects or scenery, with only the audience and the ‘wooden O’. In so doing, he extends to us the true challenge of appreciating Shakespeare: not to sit as passive spectators, but to work our imaginations around the words we hear, to participate in the performances we are experiencing, and so become a true audience. Scott Jordan Harris

 

DVD: The Red Riding Trilogy (Blu-ray)

Film: In the Year of Our Lord 1974, In the Year of Our Lord 1980, In the Year of Our Lord 1983

Director: Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker

Cast: Mark Addy, Sean Bean, Jim Carter, Warren Clarke, Paddy Considine, Shaun Dooley, Gerard Kearns, Andrew Garfield, Rebecca Hall

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List number: 33

Display Width: 200 The Red Riding Trilogy (Blu-ray)
IFC Films

The three made for British TV films that make up The Red Riding Trilogy -- In the Year of Our Lord 1974, In the Year of Our Lord 1980, and In the Year of Our Lord 1983 -- argue for their place as true awe-inspiring works of revisionist genius. Certainly, we have seen the set-up before -- sleepy little burg, outrageous horror along the fringes, the tenuous links to people of importance and legitimate authority, the able antihero (or in this case, antiheroes) struggling to come up with clues, connections, and conclusions. It’s the typical police procedural path. But like the brilliant Robbie Coltrane vehicle Cracker from the ‘90s, the three different directors in charge of realizing these stories reset the bar so high that it’s impossible to imagine anyone reaching its ridiculously satisfying heights. Bill Gibron

 

DVD: Up in the Air

Film: Up in the Air

Director: Jason Reitman

Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Danny McBride

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List number: 32

Display Width: 200Up in the Air
Paramount

Up in the Air captures the zeitgeist of the American crash years. As cutthroat capitalism discards people and destroys communities, every human relationship is fraught with uncertainty. George Clooney is Ryan Bingham, a “termination agent” -- a hired gun who fires employees of downsizing companies. Bingham is a corporate gypsy, flying from town to town, day after day. He's a man without roots; a bare apartment is his home. With no family and few friends, he embraces a philosophy of no attachments, not realizing that his loneliness is a byproduct of his vocation. When Bingham finally risks a personal relationship, he becomes vulnerable, just like the people he fires on a daily basis. In the film's final indelible image, Bingham is dwarfed by an enormous airport flight board. It's a devastating cinematic moment: Bingham is everyman, his life overwhelmed by economic forces beyond his control. An unforgettable film. John Grassi

 

DVD: Tokyo Story

Film: Tokyo Story

Director: Yasujiro Ozu

Cast: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara, Haruka Sugimura, So Yamamura, Kuniko Mikaye

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List number: 31

Display Width: 200Tokyo Story
BFI [UK]

Ozu is a master of the Japanese domestic environment. His direction is unshowy yet highly distinctive; he favours static shots which encourage focus on the actors and low-angle compositions, with the camera almost seated amongst his characters as an observing equal. He cultivates an atmosphere of polite intimacy and minimal drama in which he seeks and succeeds in drawing-out basic human truths. His is not the cinema of spectacle but of subtlety. Tokyo Story is resonant, insightful and superbly performed and directed. It is a justly recognised classic. The DVD edition comes with Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1941), a rarely seen early Ozu feature, which in many ways can be seen as a precursor to the superior Tokyo Story, thus making it an interesting comparison piece. Unlike the fairly mint main feature, it has suffered the ravages of time -- particularly with regards the quality of its sound -- but is otherwise a welcome addition. It concerns a family that, at the start of the picture, come together for a family portrait in celebration of the matriarch’s 61st birthday. Emma Simmonds

 

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From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

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Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

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A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

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Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

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